My name is Kenny Shatzkes and I am very excited to be joining the Public Health United team. I hope that I will be able to shed some light and tackle myths on science and health-related policy topics that aren’t covered well (or, let’s be serious, at all) in the mainstream media. But before we jump into things, a little about myself…
I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in the lab of Dr. Nancy Connell at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences in Newark, NJ. My first experience in research was in the lab of Dr. Martin Blaser at NYU while I was in high school. From there, I ‘disappointed’ my parents and chose a career in scientific research as opposed to their preference of medicine (but hey, which researcher hasn’t had that conversation with their parents before?). Before coming to Rutgers, I worked at the J. Craig Venter Institute and the US Food and Drug Administration for several years. My current research interests involve developing novel treatments for multi-drug resistant infections (so much to say here on that, but you’ll have to wait!).
My true passion is bringing groundbreaking science to the public. I find great satisfaction to be able to interact with and simplify complex scientific principles to people who normally would have a difficult time understanding them, both children and adults. I currently volunteer with the New York Academy of Sciences Afterschool STEM Mentoring program where I teach a hands-on life sciences curriculum to underserved 4th through 8th grade classrooms in NYC. I also volunteer with the Bio-Rad Science Ambassador Program in a similar capacity, and volunteer annually to be a judge at the New York City Science and Engineering Fair. Lesson plans I teach, some completely designed by myself, include DNA extraction using common household products, chicken leg dissections, and a ‘Patient Zero’ exercise about how infectious diseases spread.
My interactions with the kids will become a recurring theme in my posts, as I believe one of the biggest challenges that faces science today is getting the next generation excited about scientific discovery. In addition to that, there is truly no better venue to implement new ideas than in a classroom with children, which will become a testing ground of sorts for new communication approaches in science. My posts will be a hodge-podge of ideas, but will mainly focus on the issues that influence scientific policy decisions. Specifically, there are three main questions that I want to explore and how they affect current policy:
- How do we remove the stigma attached to science that it is too complicated for the mainstream?
- How do we get the mainstream excited about science?
- How can we reach more people with ACCURATE information involving current research?
In the current golden age of science and technology innovation, it is sometimes hard to admit that we as a society have taken a step backwards. But the old proverb holds true that sometimes you have to admit there is a problem before we can move forward. In Congress today, there is considerable pushback by politicians against the scientific consensus on a variety of topics (vaccines, climate change, etc.). Over time, I’ve come to terms that it is very hard to change first impressions; hence we might not ever convince the old politicians or the anti-science groups to re-adjust their thinking. However, the future generations are still raw, their minds ready to be molded, which is why I believe the focus of our attention should be on the children that we may still influence.
So how do we accomplish this? I believe we need to change the way we teach and approach science to children at an early age and provide more venues for scientists to communicate their research. Overall, it is my goal to teach my students that everyday problems, both big and small, can be solved using the scientific method. It is my sincere hope that I am able to inspire even a few of them to take a deeper interest in STEM careers. By doing this, we are setting up the next generation with the proper STEM education and tools they need to make informed decisions and to tackle future problems.